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I hate, hate, hate people who look at movies–especially older movies–as just a step in the line to the movies we have today.  It’s a slap in the face to life, by extension, and I will explain why. (Foswi, this is primarily for you.)

I am a staunch historian, and I thoroughly believe in the value of studying history.  If you do not, you might as well stop reading this blog.  We’ll just never get along.  To that extent, is it useless to study ancient warfare in a modern context?  Are there no pracitical applicable lessons to be learned from tactics that defy era, technology, or weaponry?  I think you out there in someplacewhereyou’restaringatacomputerscreen should be thinking to yourself, “No, there is value in knowing that stuff…”  Because  you’re right.

Or, let’s think of this in terms of books.  Does it make sense to stop reading  Hamlet, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, The Lord of the Rings, Black Boy, Brave New World, Romeo and Juliet, The Giver, etc. just because there are the Harry Potter series, the Twilight books, the Time Traveler’s Wife, and various James Patterson and Stephen King books topping the New York Times Bestseller list?  Should we leave the past behind and only allow only what is new and pretty and shiny to be let in?

I think not.

The problem is the genre of film allows this to easily happen.  And many people who watch movies (or passively read about movies) tend to think only the little that is said without thorough investigation into the actuality of history.

Point 1: Michael Bay is awesome…but not really.

The Island

Michael Bay, as many know, is the champion of all things pretty, and mind-numbingly explosive.  After all, you don’t make a name for yourself with blockbusters like Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island, Transformers, and Transformers II (directed all by Bay) without some level of skill.  I mean, seriously.  That’s an impressive list of movies, with impressive DVD sales, and everything.

But let us be honest.  The movies star nice looking people, blow a lot of things up, include heart-racing, adrenaline pumping, action and car chases (or meteorite destroying drill malfunctions, what have you), and fun technological advances.  They’re like James Bond films…just without James Bond.

These movies have made millions.  They have loyal fans of adults, teenagers, and children alike.  They’re fun to watch, made millions in the movie theaters.  But they suck.  They have no deeper meaning, make me thoughtful in no way, and generally make me dumber, because I actually could have been learning something while I was wasting time watching pretty people run around.

Point 2: There is more to history than just history.

Citizen Kane

A friend of mine (after reading a former post of mine) responded thusly:

I’ll disregard the opinion of anyone who thinks Citizen Kane is great for anything more than its innovative transitions and camera angles.

While said tongue-in-cheek, there is, I know, a part of him that believes this to be true.  And this is why I am angry.  I love Citizen Kane, in the same way I love Schindler’s List.  Sure it’s a little on the long side, but the story is great, the acting is believable, the direction is flawless, and the overall impact: unforgettable.

The ease with which Americans, modern people, I’m not sure who this list should (or actually does) include, forget the past when it comes to movies is disturbing.  Yes, movies are more entertaining today.  Movie from yore are a little boring.

Except that’s not true.  I defy anyone to watch The Apartment and not be complete enraptured.  Peeping Tom is one of the creepiest movies I’ve ever seen.  (If you have a Netflix account, I believe it is streaming live.   You should go watch it now.  Better than Drag Me To Hell.  Creepier.  Stranger.  More interesting.)  And you know what, It Happened One Night is the quintessential romance that cannot be improved upon in a modern way.  There are just old movies that age well, and have stayed good for a reason.  Citizen Kane is one of them.  Beyond the transitions and camera angles. (We’ve all heard the “Oh my gosh, there’s a ceiling” reaction.)  But let’s talk about the role the dining room table plays in the movie.  Did you ever think about that? Or how about the scene where Welles types out the rest of a horrible review of his wife’s disastrous operatic debut?  The acting is top notch, better than Sean Penn in Milk.

I am struck by many things.  Here’s a short list:

  • People today seem so averse to watching older, or just pain old, films.
  • People tend to devalue the impact of older movies because modern counterparts tends to be more engaging, which they equate with “better.”
  • People tend to devalue the fact that most older movies have a deeper theme than most modern movies, even modern movies based in classic stories.

This is why the market for older movies should be booming, not dying away.  This is why people should actually sit down and become their own movie reviewer.  If you take the time to watching a movie a week, you’ll watch AFI’s Top 100 movie list in less than two year.  Probably less than a year, considering you’ve seen a lot of them.

Why is it people are so ready to agree, or disagree with the statements of critics and film historians, but are so rarely willing to make their own original statements about the movies themselves.  People, you, staring at your own screen.  Say what’s on your mind.  Be willing to say Citizen Kane sucked, but don’t you dare say it’s boring without backing it up.  I’m not about opinion’s with no evidence.

Just have an opinion, and make it your own.

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Your life will never be as bad as this movie.  And you can be happy about that.  Unfortunately, your life will never be as awesome as this movie.  Which sucks, but it’s reality.  Neither do you have the tragedy of living near or having to talk with Larry the Cable Guy.  Nor, on the other hand, can you be as good looking as Bruce Willis or Milla Jovovich while living a life of fantasy in the near non-existent future where aliens exist (and apparently look like armadillos) and Chris Tucker is…Chris Tucker. I’m not sure where I was going with that.  I could have gone a lot of places with that.  None of them would have been good places, though.  Regardless…

Anyways, to get to the point.  I constantly compare my life to the movies I watch.  I lament the fact that my life will never (A) be as interesting or (B) successful as The Lives of Others, and sometimes  wish Danny Kaye would Court Jester his way into my world just once.   Ever since moving to Philadelphia, and probably because I ride my bicycle everywhere (primarily because  I’m too cheap to buy a car, and in no way does my concern for the environment dictate my decision but it is nice that it is a benefit) with my iPod headphones in, I have had the insane hope that one, as I am riding home from work, two rival gangs will bust out into choreographed dance/fighting a la West Side Story, or maybe even a little basketball choreography…whatever gets the youth off the streets these days.  By the way, I did not know that movie won 10 Oscars.  Since Return of the King, Ben Hur, and Titanic are the big 11 Oscar winners they seem to get all the attention, but 10 Oscars is a darn impressive feat.  And until rewatching that YouTube clip, had never noticed that Bernardo wore Converse All-Stars.  That’s just classy.  Or maybe everyone wore Converse All-Stars in the ’60s and I’m just a little young to know or understand.  Either way, classy.  I stand by my opinion.

(Ever since writing this, I’m going to start pushing the theater department at our school to do West Side Story as the spring musical.  This year they decided to do The Wiz.  I’m ambivalent.  The Wiz is apparently done every year at one of the middle schools in Philadelphia.  I have a feeling it’s overdone in urban areas.  Personal opinion.  Although I have to give the theater department props for doing The Outsiders and moving the play from the middle of nowhere middle America in the ’60s to New York City in the late ’80s.  They’re good.)

I am constantly wishing the movies I watch pop up in my own life.  In case you hadn’t clued in yet, this is the MOVIES AS ESCAPISM philosophy.  This is what I believe.  This is why I particularly hate watching documentaries.  I don’t like the world enough as it is, do I have to watch it all over again when I get home?  (NOTE:  This movie is a rare exception to the documentary rule.  Moving on…)  Watching Hoop Dreams was painful.  Crumb?  Just unnecessary.

This is why I’m not convinced by District 9.  It’s a little to preoccupied with NOT allowing the audience member to hopefully ignore the fact that it is really about apartheid to allow the audience member to watch the movie without thinking.  I like movies that make you think.  I don’t like movies that do the thinking for you.  This is also why (but for a slightly different reason) I will never like the National Treasure movies.  The National Treasure movies, unlike District 9, just tell you the answer.  District 9, instead, hammers the obvious into you with a mallet.  Neither is very comfortable or easy to watch.

Clarification: Watching movies about the harsh realities of life is OK.  I don’t know why, but it is.  Watching Year of the Quiet Sun was much nicer than any factual movie I have watched about Europe post World War II.  It isn’t a happy movie.  It isn’t an altogether kind movie.  But because I know it is fiction, maybe it is easier for me to stomach and accept, because I know it isn’t reality.   The movie doesn’t have to be harsh to be hated.  It just has to be real.  Movies, to me, weren’t made to show the world.  They were meant to, at the most, mirror the world, echo the world, re-represent the world, meant to capture our shadows on the cave, not to show our true faces.

This brings be to the review of the article (a personal favorite): Sunshine (I’ll get to Solaris another day.)

I know this is really late.  I know this is two years late.  I’m going to start actually writing about modern and relevant movies when work allows me the time to go out to the movie theater and see relevant movies.  Until then, I’ll review old favorites.

This movie I think is quite wonderful.  I think it is quite wonderful because it was probably a movie made precisely for me.  Ebert got it right when he said the movie was made for nerds. But, it’s more than a movie for nerds.  It’s a classic movie in that it devotes nothing new to the entire subgenre of movies where a crew of people go into outer space, get on each other’s nerves, and grapple with the fact that they’re on a suicide mission all while trying to be both psychological and vaguely sexy.  It doesn’t add anything new because the genre exists solely for B-grade movies.  (The exception is Solaris almost exclusively.  I don’t like Alien or Aliens.  I’ll explain that one later too, I promise.)  I’m pretty sure this movie does not try to be anything more than the best it knows it can be–a B-grade movie.  This is why Ebert will give it a 3/4.   Because that’s all it should deserve.

Fortunately, it is more than that.  It is part Science Fiction, part horror, part drama, part diatribe.  It’s like an all style and no substance movie with a little bit a substance.  Not much, but just enough to be entertaining.  I won’t bother with the plot because the plot doesn’t really matter very much.   You’ve seen it before.  Until a certain moment in the film.  Then it switches genre with one fail swoop and moves into another type of movie you’ve also seen before.  It’s interesting to manage and understand the switch.  It’s not that interesting.  But it is interesting.  What’s more interesting are the visuals, which will always win me over storyline, although the storyline isn’t terrible.  It’s a joy to watch, the visuals will win any viewer over.

This, I admit is my major downfall as a moviewatcher.  Oftentimes I’m willing to allow my obsession with great visuals overtake my practical sense of plot, pacing, and acting, none of which is lacking in Sunshine.  Did I mention this is one of my favorite films.  I’m not sure why I’m trying to make it sound so bad.  It’s not.  It’s actually really good.  Give it a chance.  Put it on your Netflix queue.  I doubt you’ll be sorry.

If you are, let me know, and let me know why.  Like my students who all seem to think an opinion ends with yes or no, I will always respond in the same way: an opinion is no good without a valid reason.  Give evidence!  That’s usually when I start raving around the classroom like a lunatic screaming incoherently about the value of justification and evidence.  That’s when all my students stop listening.  Which is fine.  Everything is still fine.

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